Due to an unusually hot, dry start to summer, wildlife officials are concerned that more bears will be coming down from higher elevations to look for food and water in areas such as the foothills, camping sites, and hiking trails. "They've lost weight after hibernating over the winter, and they've only got a few months during the summer to pack on all those pounds before they hibernate again," says Stephanie Natt, a head keeper at Utah's Hogle Zoo.
Recently in Alaska a 30 year old man was mauled by a brown bear near an Anchorage hiking trail. The man survived, but was badly injured.
Black bears are most common in Utah, according to Natt who also works with the Wild Aware Utah Program. Brown bears and grizzly bears exist more in surrounding states of Utah. She says people need to be aware that even though they look friendly and cute, black bears are carnivores that can become very dangerous if approached by humans.
Natt and other experts say the key to not getting attacked by a bear is by avoiding an encounter altogether. That includes being aware of your surroundings, hiking or camping in a group, keeping your children close by, and making noise. "If you're quiet you're more likely to startle a bear, so singing, whistling, jingling keys on your keychain, things like that are good to do," says Natt.
If a person happens to see a bear, the number one rule, according to experts, is to stay calm. Natt explains that remaining submissive and non-threatening will help subdue a bear. Trying to run from the bear is a very bad idea and can create a predator/prey instinct, inviting the bear to possibly run after a person. Instead, Natt advises quietly walking away from the bear.
Contrary to popular belief, Natt says it's also not recommended to play dead when you see a black bear. "Never play dead with a black bear. If you are attacked, instead fight back with everything you've got," says Natt.
Another tip to remember, says Natt, is to not wear an iPod or anything that requires the use of earphones. If you're listening to music, you could become very distracted and walk right into the path of a bear.
Natt also says using bear spray is good, but only if you're trained to use it correctly. Otherwise, if it is sprayed wrong, it could incapacitate a human instead of a bear.